The Art of Hellboy

By Mike Mignola (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-910-7(HB) 978-1-59307-089-2(TPB) eISBN 978-1-62115-749-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Indulge Yourself in the Art of Terror… 9/10

Hellboy is a creature of vast depth and innate mystery; a demonic child summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists at the end of World War II. Intercepted and rescued by allied troops, the infernal infant was reared by Allied parapsychologist Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm. After years of devoted intervention, education and warm human interaction, in 1952 Hellboy began destroying unnatural threats and supernatural monsters as lead agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

As the decades of his career unfold, Hellboy gleans snatches of his origins, learning he is an pit-born creature of dark portent: born an infernal messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects…

Above all, Hellboy is one of those rare tragic, doomed heroes who somehow fits into every conceivable niche and genre, and that’s a tribute to the narrative and illustrative gifts of creator Mike Mignola (and his many collaborators) and – as this book and editor Scott Allie’s Introduction reveals – a diabolical amount of sheer hard work…

This magnificent oversized (229 x 310 mm) hardback or paperback (also available in digital formats) reproduces a wealth of comics pages and covers, roughs and sketches, beginning with the very first rendering of the proto-wonder.

A treasure trove of Mignola’s pencil designs and ink renderings trace the concept’s development, and are accompanied by the author/artists own recollections, augmented by early comics pages (published and not) and covers (ditto) as well as thumbnail layouts in a variety of media and finished original art pages; all offering the kind of working secrets all wannabe artists never tire of seeing…

Also revelatory are the inclusions from Mignola’s sketchbooks, affording us a far more precious insight into his narrative process…

As well as the creative secrets, this fabulous tome includes many promo pieces, finished but unused pages as well as designs and premium images, and crossover art featuring other folks’ characters such as Batman, The Spirit and Ghost plus out-industry artwork (such as Christmas cards).

Baroque, grandiose, eye-catching and unforgettably powerful, the images in this bombastic book combine as a timeless treat for friends and fiends who love the dark and revere the verve, imagination and, longevity of the greatest Outsider Hero of All: a supernatural thriller no comics fan should be without.

And we’re well past due for a second volume too…
The Art of Hellboy™ © 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Mike Mignola. All rights reserved.


Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019

By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

The Artist: The Circle of Life

By Anna Haifisch (Breakdown Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91108-107-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Grown Up Fun… 9/10

Like Norwegian émigré and cartoon superstar Jason, Anna Haifisch is a compulsive visualiser and raconteur with a devastating touch of whimsy that is impossible to resist.

Born in 1986 in Leipzig, the illustrator and screen printer is a truly dedicated purveyor of captivating comics that exude charm and wit whilst tackling big issues in accessible ways. She’s also very sly, and very funny. It’s made her something of an international celebrity…

In 2017 her book The Artist introduced an effete intellectual avian utterly in love with the fashionable concept of being a creator and this long-awaited sequel delivers another clutch of wry, vainglorious, heartfelt, pompous and charming episodes detailing how tough it is to dedicate one’s life to the Muse… especially if you only want to draw birds and snakes…

A vivid hardback collation, sequel volume The Circle of Life collects strips from 2016 that first appeared online at Vice.Com and shares even more insights in powerful line and flat colour combinations, beginning with an eponymous self-deprecating introduction…

Delivered as short 2-3 page cartoon colloquies, the drama dioramas open on a wearying, pharmaceutical-fuelled night out with Owl, leading to an origin of sorts and a challenging confrontation with that bane of all artists, the wealthy but clueless collector/sponsor…

Most episodes are brief and untitled but some earn themselves notoriety and utility through names such as ‘Art Rap’ which follows a deliriously engaging vignette about St. Luke (Patron Saint of artists). After that blending of imagery with devious street patter, an idealised day segues into a faux documentary on lost painter Edzard Fünfhauser, an incident of excoriating self-recrimination, a visit to the psych ward and a restorative trip down memory lane…

A fanciful sojourn amidst Art’s Great Ones and a historically significant moment of letter-writing leads to a temporary abandonment of dreams and principles before a sordid session of tool fetishism restores equilibrium via a period of Japanese impressionism and Haiku drafting.

There follows and Interlude: On Birds enquiring ‘What Happened to All the Aspiring Cartoon Birds’ (such as Donald, Woodstock and Tweety), after which a dissertation on being online and painful interactions with a non-artistic relative lead to a re-examination of favourite themes and a brief commission in frozen Greenland.

A sad tryst with a cage bird triggers ‘3 Jolly Autumn Strips’; a visit to the Jail built for Artists and the horrors of tawdry commercialism and hawking your work to the public (so clearly autobiographical, as Haifisch is co-founder of Germany’s The Millionaires Club Indie Comics Festival in Leipzig) before concluding on an uplifting high note with an illustrative paean to creativity and a singalong tribute to ‘Sorority’

Outrageous and charming, these exploration of the fabled life and anxiety-drenched traps of the creative spirit are a delight for everyone who’s ever picked up a pencil or looked at a masterpiece and thought “I can do that”…
© Anna Haifisch Breakdown Press 2019.

Ghosts and Ruins

By Ben Catmull (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-678-2 (HB)

If you know the works of Sidney Sime and Edward Gorey, the horror comics of Bernie Wrightson and Michael Kaluta or simply love to peer through your interlocked fingers at the films of Tim Burton or the creepy backgrounds in Charles Addams creations, you’re clearly an aficionado of silly, spooky business and know mordant fantasy plays best when played for laughs.

With that in mind, you might be interested in this macabrely monochrome coffee-table art book (and also digital formats) from cartoonist Ben Catmull (Monster Parade, Paper Theater) which classily celebrates the stuff of nauseating, stomach-churning terror and sinister, creeping suspense in a series of eerie illustrated plates crafted in scratchboard on Masonite… for extra-spooky darkness!

All that audaciously arcane art is wedded to epigrammatic prose snippets to comprise tantalising skeletons of stories best left untold and consequences safely ajudged as unimaginable…

The engrossing landscape hardback (268 x 222mm) combines gloomy gothic imagery with wry and witty updates on uncanny situations in a procession of locations best left well enough alone, and commences with six views of the dank domicile of diabolical ‘Drowned Shelley’ and a single ghastly glimpse of ‘The Buried House’.

A queasy quartet then divulges the doings of the ‘The Disgusting Garden’, after which one peek at ‘The Secluded House’ leads inexorably to a triptych revealing ‘The Woman Outside the Window’

Four frightful frames of ‘Wandering Smoke’ roam towards ‘The Order of the Shadowy Finger’ – five in full – before giving way to three glimpses of ‘The Lighthouse’; a visit to a domicile all ‘Hair and Earwigs’ and thence to numerous views of the monstrous masterpieces hewn by horrific revenant ‘The Sculptor’

On view is the ‘Labyrinth of Junk’ once concocted by a demonic carpenter, but that is as nothing compared to the sheer terror of ‘The Crawling House’ and the ghastly practises of a ‘Lonely Old Spinster’

Mordantly blending bleak, spectral dread and anxious anticipation with timeless scary scenarios, this terrifying tease is a sheer delight no lover of Dark Art could conceivably resist…
© 2013 Ben Catmull. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance

By Lizzy Stewart (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN:978-1-910395-50-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartwarming and Thought Provoking… 9/10

Assuming you do still think, where do you go and what do you do to get in touch with yourself? I only ask because, in these days of a million and one ways to chemically, digitally functionally and emotionally sedate the mind, one the most effective ways to process information is still a good long walk…

Thirty-something artist Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a physical act which seemingly obsesses her. She even keeps a list of favourite movie walks by a host of female stars that fit all her personal criteria for moments of perfection…

Walking Distance is a meandering meditation on right here, right now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a stunning travelogue of London literally at ground level – wedded to tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) today.

All the bugbears trot along: getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, norms of behaviour, unfair expectations, balances of power in gender relationships and what the future holds in store…

Naturally – and shamefully for us men – a large proportion of that menu includes concerns about personal safety and a right to privacy and agency in public. There’s isn’t a woman anywhere who hasn’t had a walk marred at some moment after apprehensively anticipating what a complete stranger in the vicinity might abruptly say or do…

Happily, the grim is balanced by the delightful: ponderings on art and work, a sense of home space and just the sheer joy of observing the fresh and new as well as the comfortingly familiar. There’s even room for intimate views of personal history and opinion, yet the overall progress is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgement or solutions and in the direction the walker chooses…

This beguiling stroll offers a blend of philosophy, anxiety and anticipation, all brainstormed as she – and you, if you can keep up – strides ever onward.

Clearly, walks do anything but clear your head, but can result in beautiful visual ruminations like this one: no glib sound-bite responses, no roles modelled and no solutions, but you can consider this a privileged personal chat while she walks and you don’t.
© Lizzy Stewart, 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance will be published on October 24th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.


By Dave Cooper (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-378-1 (HB)

Every so often I tend to stray a little from my accustomed comfort zone and regulation hunting grounds: moving beyond narrative art into broader realms of imagination. In that vein, here’s a little item available in hardback and digital formats that promises all of that and more. Whilst not sequential art the enticing yet profoundly disturbing images contained herein are certainly full of technical craft and intense imagination; and moreover, the chillingly subversive pictures tell stories the way no thousand words ever could… by boring straight into your brain and making themselves uncomfortably at home.

Dave Cooper was born in November 1967 in Nova Scotia, before relocating – presumably with adult guardians of some sort – to Ottawa when he was nine. A few years later, he was swept up in the massive mid-1980s Independent comics Boom & Bust that generated great and wonderful series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Puma Blues, Flaming Carrot and Silent Invasion, as well as lots of awful couldn’t die fast enough stuff. Young Cooper toiled for schlockmeister Barry Blair on numerous Aircel Comics titles and doesn’t like to talk about it much now…

Thoroughly “blooded”, his real career began in the 1990’s at Fantagraphics, creating challenging underground comix styled material like Suckle, Weasel and graphic novel Ripple amongst other strips. In 2007, as Hector Mumbly, he published his first kid’s book Bagel’s Lucky Hat.

By 2002 he had transformed into an acclaimed oil painter with international gallery shows and awards and ended the decade as a creator/designer of animated kids TV shows such as Pig Goat Banana Cricket (with Johnny Ryan for Nickelodeon) and The Bagel and Betty Show (Teletoon/BBC) as well as short film for adults The Absence of Eddy Table. He’s still painting and is now a Director of the Saw Gallery.

A sequence of Cooper’s darker, violently sinister and most sexually surreal paintings is assembled in this pictorially grotesque catalogue of forbidden delights, preceded by effusive Introduction ‘Bent and Free’ from Guillermo del Toro.

The illustrative technique is sheer, Impressionistic welcoming seduction, but the content is deranged, deformed and disturbingly gelid: all soft contours, glossy surfaces and childhood dreams, offering human forms distorted and reformed by Lovecraftian physics and biology. It’s a uniquely horrid beauty and one that, once seen, is so very hard to forget…

As well as fully-realised paintings, the book also features pencil & pen sketches and working drawings offering a glimpse into the mind and process of a one-of-a-kind talent.

If you crave images that push every envelope, track down this macabre tome…
© 2010 Dave Cooper. All rights reserved.

Cave Girls of the Lost World,

By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books Digital Exclusive)
No ISBN: ASIN: B07H487P65

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale. His compelling pictorial sagas appeal greatly to kids of all ages.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. Soon after beginning a career as an illustrator he rediscovered his early love of comicbooks and icons of popular mass culture, such as cop shows and horror movies. He’s never looked back…

The release of potentially metafictional and self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, through iconic lead characters as girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia: to date the most well-known and utilised of his gratifyingly large repertory of characters.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – albeit posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake. At the moment he’s devoting time to extended mystery webcomics Super-Enigmatix and The Cardinal. Oh, and this…

A (thus far) digital only release, Cave Girls of the Lost World is a marriage of text blocks and full-page illustrations cheekily referencing 1960s dinosaur cheesecake themes (as seen in One Million Years BC or When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) with the plucky bonhomie of schoolgirls novels and comics of the same era. Think of The Four Marys in Conan Doyle’s Lost World and channelling the funnier parts of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

Actually, no, don’t. Think of very fetching cartoons heaving with gleeful irony…

The saga unfolds in four chapters as a young boy wanders a beach and finds a message in a bottle. It is a diary detailing the extraordinary fate which befell 30 female college applicants whose plane crashed onto a strange plateau where giant saurians, extinct precursor races of mankind and vegetable horrors still thrived and relates how the castaways learned to kill or perish…

Fans of Super-Enigmatix will be delighted to discover that some of the characters from that unfolding drama play a crucial part here, too…

    Beguiling, clever, and staggeringly engaging, this yarn blends nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of children scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will leave every unrepentant fantasy fan hungry for more…
    Cave Girls of the Lost World © 2018 Richard Sala. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Why Art? (Fourth Edition)

By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-082-9 (PB)

Probably everybody here will agree that comics is art sequentially wedded to pictures. However, when asked to define what constitutes “Art”, the answers become a little more nuanced and open to debate. What’s needed is someone sharp, talented and well-travelled – preferably a practitioner – who can give us all a full and final assessment…

Eleanor Davis is one of those rare sparks that just can’t help making great comics. Born in 1983 and growing up in Tucson, Arizona, she was blessed with parents who immersed their child in classic strip literature such as Little Nemo, Little Lulu and Krazy Kat.

Following unconventional schooling and teen years spent making minicomics, Davis studied at Georgia’s prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, where she now teaches. Her own innovative works have appeared in diverse places such as Mome, Nobrow and Lucky Peach.

A life of glittering prizes began after her award-winning easy reader book Stinky was released in 2008. Davis subsequently followed up with gems such as The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (with her husband Drew Weing), You & a Bike & a Road and How to be Happy. Who better, then, to lay to rest possibly the most infuriating conundrum of the modern age?

In 2018, Fantagraphics released Why Art?, based on elements of her presentation for ICON: The Illustration Conference 9. The result is a whimsical exploration of what the term means – albeit seen through the lens of one of the slyest, driest and most cultured senses of humour in the business…

If you can keep your own wits about you, in this deliriously addictive paperback/eBook you will glean potential solutions to perennial mysteries all de- and re-mystified in chapters on ‘Color’ as interpreted through scale; ‘What is our audience searching for’ via an examination of Masks; how to use physical and metaphorical ‘Mirrors’ and how some art is ‘Edible’

Narrative fully enters the frame in a section on ‘Concealment artworks’ and the liberational force of ‘Shadowbox’ creations. which serves to introduce a repertory cast of creatives who work in different media and then take us on their shared journey of catastrophic revelation…

Wry and surreal, strong>Why Art? is a delicious tease and poker of hornets’ nests that slickly tackles loads of old, overused questions while offering a few new queries you never thought of…

It’s also beautifully drawn and rendered: A brilliant diversion combining wit and wisdom in a manner every self-accused intellectual and unrepentant picture lover can revel in.
© Eleanor Davis 2018. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Death Threat

By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Desolation Wilderness

By Claire Scully (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-45-5 (PB)

The most magical thing about comics is the sheer versality of potential results. In terms of narrative, exposition, mood-setting and information dissemination, nothing can come close, and the range of visualisation spans near-abstract construction to hyper-realism. If the end-consumer is particularly receptive, the author can even dial back on the narrative and let a succession of carefully-applied images make a story unique to each reader. It’s like jazz for your eyes…

In a way, we’re all still monkeys clinging to rocks: we cannot help but respond viscerally to our environments: cowed or elated by stony heights, drawn to and pacified by pools and gardens, inexplicably moved to fear or joy by forests. It’s in our blood and bones: Nobody stands on a mountaintop or looks down into the Grand Canyon and says “meh”…

We may have left the caves and trees but we now mimic those ancient sanctuary havens in our dwellings. We climb high and burrow deep and our architecture has visceral, compulsive, instinctive power over us – just walk by a Victorian school, across a Roman viaduct or study the oppressive triumphalism of Nazi-built buildings or battle emplacements – we’re all still part of the wild and nature is in our bones too.

When someone really talented and truly invested channels those primal responses, the fires of creativity can push right into the hindbrain to our inner primitive. Desolation Wilderness does that.

Described as “a sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space” this tiny paperback handbook is a purely visual experience enhanced by the rough tactile textures of the card it’s printed on: part of an on-going project examining the relationship of Landscape and Memory.

Creator Claire Scully has inscribed and sequenced compelling scenes of rocks and trees and waters through different seasons and times of day in such a fashion that you must look and pause and ponder. It is a graphic missile targeting recollection and imagination; one that hits with serenely devastating impact.

If you are still human it will make you think: you won’t be able to help yourself…

© 2019 Claire Scully. All rights reserved.
Desolation Wilderness is scheduled for publication on June 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.